Amber Williams, vice provost for the Division of Student Success, arrived at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in January 2020. Vice Provost Williams recently reflected on her first year with the Volunteer family and the Division of Student Success’s first anniversary.
What do you remember most about your first year at UT?
The people. When I interviewed, I was struck by the student–centered approach to my conversations with the campus community. That‘s why I was excited to join the Volunteer family. And my observations were correct. At UT, students matter. Their stories matter.
I will remember most how the campus called 29,000 students during the All Vol Calling Campaign, with more than 400 individuals volunteering to help. Volunteers are leaders. We rallied together to support our students as they transitioned to remote learning.
Looking back on Student Success‘ first year, what have been the highlights for the division?
The highlights have been the initiatives we have implemented to impact our student scholars both immediately and for the long-term. First-year student scholars were assigned their Vol Success Teams, which consists of their academic advisor, academic coach, and a One Stop counselor. Within the first 45 days of the semester, the teams had completed over 2,700 individual academic coaching sessions, in contrast to only 700 plus the year before. Feedback from student scholars who engaged with their Vol Success Teams indicated lower stress, increased belongingness, and increased academic success perception.
The Vol First-Year Experience (VFYE) connects first-year student scholars with faculty, staff, and peers while introducing them to campus resources and supporting their campus life transition. During fall 2020, 88% of first-year student scholars enrolled in VFYE, with 76% of them feeling they are a part of the UT community, and 88% thought they would excel academically at UT.
New V.O.L. Experience reimagined UT student scholars‘ journey to UT with virtual advising, online pre-orientation, and the Big Orange Welcome, which has expanded to six weeks of programming and events. Following the fall 2020 orientation experience, 98% of scholars felt better equipped to succeed at UT, and 99% cited increased awareness of the services available to support them.
What are you most proud of from the work UT is doing towards student scholars‘ academic success?
We are moving towards an individualized approach to supporting student scholars that help build their confidence. We challenge every student scholar intellectually and believe high expectations are attainable. Finally, we‘re reimagining the structures necessary for every student scholar to meet their potential.
What is special and unique about UT and the Volunteer family?
I‘ve been reading about the 225–year history of UT. As a land grant institution, our mission affords access to and welcomes all student scholars into our community of collaborative thinkers and determined innovators. Thousands of Volunteers came before us, and we will help pave the way for generations of Volunteers to come. Upon reflection, I realize we are grounded in something bigger than ourselves. This last year, I‘ve seen faculty and staff jump leaps and bounds to help our student scholars achieve their dreams and help them become their best selves on their unique path to success.
What will be the most important goals and initiatives for Student Success for 2021?
This next year, I look forward to collaborating with the campus community to help each student scholar thrive by creating a campus environment that values and nurtures student scholars‘ strengths. Many campuses, unintentionally, lean on a deficit mindset, which inadvertently impedes and limits their potential. UT can set itself apart by creating the conditions in which each student feels empowered to thrive. In the coming months, I hope to explore how UT can enhance our student success efforts by developing a positive psychology approach to our efforts.